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Making Over an American Icon
'97 Alaska Wilderness Grad Takes Environmental Ethics to a Corporate Level
By Riley Hopeman

What do I want to be when I grow up? We’ve all asked ourselves this question hundreds of times throughout our lives. An athlete? A doctor? An astronaut? The Manager of Environmental and Social Responsibility for the McDonald’s Corporation? Wait, what? Enter Kyle Schott and her path to corporate environmental ethics.

In the summer of 1997, prior to her senior year of high school, Kyle enrolled in a 30-day NOLS Alaska Wilderness course. Though she’d spent plenty of time in the outdoors, this expedition was her first true exposure to remote backcountry areas. “NOLS was a very raw experience for me,” recalls the 27-year-old. “It took my outdoor experience to the next level and allowed me to learn my own limitations and why they are there.”

After completing her NOLS course, Kyle was eager to enroll in AP Environmental Science at her high school. This class, combined with the knowledge she’d gained from her time spent with NOLS, would lay the foundation for her studies in higher education. “NOLS was extremely motivating for me,” she says. “Not only did I learn about the wilderness, but I was also able to understand exactly what environmental legislation is protecting.” With that solid foundation of NOLS curriculum and environmental studies in high school, Kyle went on to earn a degree in environmental policy and behavior at the University of Michigan.

“My NOLS course was the primary influence in choosing my degree, as well as pursuing a career in corporate social responsibility,” says Kyle. Following her second year as a Michigan Wolverine, she accepted an internship with Ford Motor Company. This marked Kyle’s first experience with a company not conventionally labeled as being environmentally or socially responsible.

During her internship, she was responsible for managing and responding to feedback, as well as organizing a two-day conference between Ford and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs). At this event, NGOs provided suggestions on what Ford could do as a company to reduce its negative environmental impacts. “Having the knowledge of what’s happening in the environmental and policy side of things is essential to understanding how we’ve come to where we are today,” stresses Kyle. “Only then can we begin to protect and manage environmental impacts.”

This determination and understanding has brought Kyle to her current position at the McDonald’s Corporation. For the past three years, she has been their manager for environmental and social responsibility. “McDonald’s is a very tangible product and one that nearly everyone understands,” says Kyle. “I felt like those characteristics would allow me to make the impacts I want to make.”

Currently, her department is working on multiple projects related to making McDonald’s a more socially and environmentally responsible corporation. With over 13,000 restaurants nationwide, many environmental practice changes that McDonald’s could make would have tremendously positive results.

“We recently finished an environmental scorecard with Conservation International to help measure our energy, air and water use, as well as the amount of waste we produce,” said Kyle. “Our goal is to reduce those numbers substantially.”

Kyle is also pushing for the development of producing biodiesel to fuel delivery trucks between McDonald’s establishments nationwide. In addition to these trucks, McDonald’s also hopes to use shuttles to transport its corporate Chicago employees from facility to facility.

Developing LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings is another project Kyle is pursuing. Through the construction of these facilities, McDonald’s aims to create a sustainable site that is water and energy efficient. McDonald’s is also looking toward sustainable fish farm practices to reduce the environmental risks commonly associated with poor food quality and product safety.

With the help of this NOLS grad, McDonald’s is taking steps towards environmentally sustainable practices. With the addition of renewable resources, alternative energies and sustainable practices into its policies, the fast food corporation’s future appears to be an environmentally bright one. As for Kyle, she is confident her work is significant and pointing McDonald’s in the right direction.

“By staying passionate, motivated and focused, I am able to truly see the impacts my work is having,” she says. “My job is challenging but I enjoy it very much. However, I wouldn’t mind another injection of the NOLS energy that’s taken me to where I am today.”

For more on McDonald’s and their environmental practices, visit www.mcdonalds.com/usa/good/environment.html

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